Three Sufi dervishes are reported to be in custody in Iran after a raid that initially swept up one of their leaders, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.
The International Committee to Protect the Rights of Dervishes and Students in Iran said police and security forces arrested five members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi Muslim community in the central town of Foulad Shahr on January 2.
Soudabeh Ghaemi, the committee's Europe-based spokeswoman, told RFE/RL on January 3 that the raid targeted a house where Morteza Mahjoubi, a leader of the Nematollahi Gonabadi dervish order, was staying.
"At 11 p.m. two carloads of police and three of security personnel attacked the house where Mahjoubi was staying and arrested him and four other Gonabadi dervishes," Ghaemi said.
She added that after Mahjoubi was taken to the Intelligence Ministry section of Dastgerd prison in Isfahan, his followers held a protest in front of the prison.
The authorities released Mahjoubi and his son at 4:30 a.m. when his followers tried to attack the prison, Ghaemi added. But the three other Gonabadi dervishes who were taken into custody with Mahjoubi were still in jail, she said.Sufis Complain Of Harassment
There have long been tensions between dervishes -- a fraternity within Sufi tradition -- and those who favor a more conservative interpretation of Islam.
But Sufi officials and human rights groups say the harassment of Sufis has significantly increased since President Mahmud Ahmadinejad took office in August 2005.
Many Sufis have been sentenced to lashings and imprisonment, and many of their houses of worship and cemeteries have been destroyed. In 2009, a Gonabadi house of worship was demolished in Isfahan.
The leaders of the Nematollahi Gonabadi dervish order have lived and been buried in Gonabad, in the northeastern Khorasan Province, for more than a century.Listen to this story in Persian here